When I was wrapping up my second masters degree at the CUNY Graduate Center in the fall of 2005 I vowed that when I finished I would take it upon myself to learn a second language. I had actually minored in Russian as an undergrad, but that had been a decade and a half earlier and my Russian was, to put it mildly, rusty. I chose Russian because my brother and I had made a trip to Europe in November 1989 that included West and East Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union; when I returned to my studies in spring 1990, six weeks or so after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I had vague notions of learning the language and being part of the post-Cold War period in a direct and immediate way. As you might imagine, it did not work out that way.
Maybe it is living in New York, or perhaps it is that my brother now lives in France, but I realized as I was finishing school in ’05 that one needs, if not full-fledged bilingualism, at least a working knowledge of another language. In the winter of 2006 when it was time to begin I narrowed it down to French and German. I chose French because I thought it could help me in more of the world than German probably could. I would still like to travel within the Francophone world. Things were going well in my studies until some major life changes required me to focus–quite happily–on other things.
Today, after a long hiatus, I pulled out my lesson books and came up with a plan to brush off the dust and bring my French up to where I want it to be. My goals are 1) to be able to converse in basic French when entering a hotel, restaurant, or similar social setting, and 2) to read and write at at the high-intermediate level. Certainly I can find 45 minutes a day to make this happen.
As I said in my post the other day about the 1960s, I have become increasingly aware of the need to think holistically and not pigeon-hole oneself. Currently, I am about a quarter of the way through the late Warren Zimmermann’s First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power. Triumph tells the story of how Teddy Roosevelt, Elihu Root, John Hay, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Alfred T. Mahan did just that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The reason I say all this is because to me the book is reinforcing the importance of thinking wider than 1861-1865 to understand the Civil War. Hay is an especially interesting character because he started of course working for Lincoln in 1860 and was still serving his country and president three and a half decades later. This included several stints overseas. Often we think the people who fought in the Civil War, or who served in whatever capacity in which the served, lived hermetically sealed in those four years. Of course, they did not.
So, here I am up to my elbows in the imparfait and passé composé yet again. It feels pretty good.